Saturday, April 29, 2023

Point of Order: Finance Minister is coy about costs of trains for lower North Island ....

......while Health Minister may hope to bamboozle Buller people

Our hard-working big-spending ministers have added to the list of announcements which make demands on the public purse, since Point of Order last checked the government’s official website.

But a statement released in the names of Finance Minister Grant Robertson and Transport Minister Michael Wood is astonishingly bereft of hard data related to the costs of the initiative that enthuses them.

They announced a boost for rail travel in the Wairarapa and Lower North island in the form of a fleet of 18 “brand-new trains”.

But the only hint that developments like this cost money is in the very last paragraph:

“Since 2017, the Government has invested $8.6 billion to build a resilient and reliable network after decades of neglect and decline. This investment has gone into the bread and butter work of replacing tracks, installing new culverts and bridges, and upgrading turnouts, all of which are needed for a safe and effective network,” Michael Wood said

The other new statement, from Health Minister Ayesha Verrall, is more upfront about the cost of a new integrated health facility which she has officially opened for the Buller community.

But while the costs have been declared, the government has been careful to disguise the nature of the work undertaken and services provided by this health facility. It has eschewed user-friendly words like “Buller Hospital”, “Buller Medical Centre” or “Buller Health Facility” in favour of “Te Rau Kawakawa”.

Perhaps the aim is to bamboozle the good people of Buller about what goes on there to ease the work burden for medical staff.

Verrall has been open with the dollar numbers, however:

Te Rau Kawakawa is one of 104 healthcare infrastructure projects worth a total of $6.8 billion that Te Whatu Ora is currently planning and delivering around the motu.

The former West Coast DHB received $21 million in Government funding to build the new single-storey brick building, which has a total of 12 beds inclusive of 7-overnight beds plus a birthing room.

Community services like District Nursing and Home & Community Support Services, Hauora Māori service, mental health service as well as drug and alcohol services will also be located within the new facility.

“Te Whatu Ora”, should you still be trying to adjust to the government’s policy of mingling Maori with English, is Health New Zealand. Eventually you will catch on: it is a huge government agency which has taken over the work of the old district health boards and is involved in providing health services.

5.“Motu” has many meanings, among them:(noun); island, country, land, nation, clump of trees, ship – anything separated or isolated.

We are left to guess whether $6.8 billion is being spent in the South Island, throughout the nation or – unlikely, we agree – within a clump of trees.

The statements can be read in full on the Beehive website:

Latest from the Beehive

A fleet of 18 brand new trains for Wairarapa and Kapiti Coast:

A new integrated health facility built to improve and future-proof care for the Buller community was officially opened by Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall this afternoon.

The announcement regarding the fleet of 18 brand new trains for Wairarapa and Kapiti Coast highlighted these points:
  • Increase capacity by approximately 1.5 million trips
  • Time savings of up to 15 minutes on the Manawatū line
  • Reduce over half a million tonnes of emissions
  • Build resilience into the network
“We said that infrastructure will be a key focus in this year’s Budget and this announcement is a critical example of that. It builds on previous Budgets where this government has made a long term commitment to improving rail services for New Zealanders,” Grant Robertson said.

The initiative to co-fund a fleet of 18 four-car trains and upgrade rail tracks would strengthen public transport links for those traveling or working in and out of Wellington from Manawatu or the Wairarapa.

It would support growth along these rail corridors as well as boost productivity “for the regions and the country as a whole”.

The word “motu” has not yet crept into his lexicon, apparently.

“The new trains will operate using a combination of electricity wires, batteries and fuel, lowering our carbon emissions and making New Zealand less reliant on volatile international energy markets,” Grant Robertson said.

Michael Wood said many commuters were “familiar with the disruptions associated with the current fleet”, so this news would be a game charger for those communities.

Providing viable and attractive public transport alternatives was critical to dealing with congestion throughout the Lower North Island, Wood said.

“These trains will replace the current fleet, which is from the 1970s and at the end of its useful life. The new fleet will support the introduction of express services which will attract additional commuters.”

Challenges with the current service frequency, reliability and punctuality were a result of the aging fleet, Wood said. Both lines would have exceeded capacity by 2030.

This indicates a significant untapped demand for these services.

In the interim, the Government has invested in refurbishing carriages for the Capital Connection and improvements to the rail lines.

“Associated network improvements will improve corridor capacity and resilience for both passenger and freight services, and stations will be revitalized to meet modern accessibility and amenity standards.”

Then came the only dollar sign:

“Since 2017, the Government has invested $8.6 billion to build a resilient and reliable network after decades of neglect and decline.”

And then Wood trundled out some of the PM’s favourite buzz word – bread and butter.

This investment had gone into the bread and butter work of replacing tracks, installing new culverts and bridges, and upgrading turnouts, he said. All of these were needed for a safe and effective network.

Point of Order is a blog focused on politics and the economy run by veteran newspaper reporters Bob Edlin and Ian Templeton

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